Kay McGill: From Crime to Blind

Kay McGill

Kay McGill

Kay McGill: From Crime to Blind

Kay McGill has been part of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency since 1974. She is currently the Program Manager of Project Independence- also known as the Older Blind Program. Before that, she was in jail…

If you ever met Kay, or heard her speak about what she does, or attend a meeting she is facilitating- you can feel her passion, her dedication to detail, and the joyful pride she takes in doing her job. Her colleagues in the field, clients that have worked with her, and friends from near and far describe her this way:

“Kay is one of the most caring, dedicated, and detail-oriented person I have ever worked with”

“Kay is always informative of issues and concerns for our clients. She loves to share information and is wonderful to work with”

“Kay is a mentor, an advocate, and a people-connecting dynamo”

“She is knowledge seeking and inquisitive. But most of all, she is a friend”

Kay received her Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Kentucky in 1974. While in school, she was on the UK Fencing team. So, not only was she in jail, but she also wielded sharp weapons! One of the most interesting aspects of Kay being on the Fencing Team was that she taught herself how to fence right-handed. She was left dominant. Like her father, a surgeon, Kay was a lefty in Catholic school growing up in Kentucky. Her father also went to Catholic schools and was converted to being right-handed by the strict nuns. However, when Kay went to Catholic school, her father insisted that she be allowed to write and do her activities with her left hand. He advocated for her to be who she was. It was Kay herself who decided she wanted to be ambidextrous. She writes lefty, she fences righty, and on the computer, she switches the mouse from left to right every other day. She can cut with a knife on either side. To Kay, it is very important to have more than one way to do something. If you can’t go left, go right. Or forge a new and creative path for yourself. For Kay, this is the essence of successfully getting to the finish line on the road of rehabilitation. It is about using alternative strategies, problem-solving, adapting, setting-goals, following through and having ACCESS to information.

Kay spent the first part (18+ years) of her nearly 44-year career with Voc. Rehab working with the Department of Corrections and Pardons and Paroles. As the Rehabilitation Counselor for public offenders soon to be released, she spent a number of her days in jail, prison, parole and probations offices, preparing her clients for a new path. When she went into the institutions, Kay had to remember not to be her usual smiley, bouncy, and friendly self in this role. She was petite, but serious. In 1974, she was working with some unfriendly, confrontational, and very skeptical men. And those were just the guards! The Prisoners themselves were quite the variety of ‘bad guys’- rapists, molesters, burglars, drug-dealers. They were referred to Kay upon the end of their sentence or if they were paroled or probated. Kay was successful and loved her caseload. How? She had a system. She developed very specific strategies that encouraged her clients to set goals, follow-through, adapt, and be part of a rehabilitation community. Her strengths in gathering and disbursing resources, pulling creative and thoughtful professionals together in the spirit of collaboration, and staying focused on the client’s path- ALL these skills were utilized during her time “doing time”. This is also where she met her husband, Dick, a Parole Officer, and her true ‘Partner in Crime’ for thirty plus years.

From crime to blind…

The next 25+ years, Kay worked for and with individuals who were blind/visually impaired. In 1993, she became the Residential Facility Supervisor of the Georgia Sensory Center. This was a 24/7 residential and training rehabilitation facility for individuals who were blind, deaf, and deaf-blind. Then she was the Field Supervisor, then the State Coordinator of Blind Services and the Older Blind Program Manager. Her passion, her systems, and her ambidextrous ways proved just as beneficial in these roles. She collaborated with families, support staff, and service providers on behalf of her clients until 2006. Between then and 2010, she took care of her husband who was recovering from a serious car accident, redid their entire home, and worked at Georgia Perimeter College in the Department of Continuing Education. She came out of retirement in 2010 to manage the Older Blind Program/ Project Independence. She will retire in December of 2021 from GVRA. This time, for real.

What’s next?

As with everything, she has a plan for retirement. She has set goals for herself for projects to do at home, in the community, and some travel. She is also looking forward to new adventures, relaxing (maybe) and “making googly-eyes with Dick”. Regardless of what Kay does and where she goes, there is no doubt she will continue to make an impact as she has done for the past 47 years in Georgia. She will use her skills as a people-person, resource-sharing Dynamo, and creative, passionate, problem-solver to make the world a better, more informed place.

Let us all put our hands together for Kay McGill!

By Jamie Lee Marks

August 2021